Metro

Independent wins tight 3-way gubernatorial race

By and
Metro Editor and Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Correction appended.

Independent Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14 defeated Republican John Robitaille, Democrat Frank Caprio and Moderate Ken Block to become Rhode Island’s first independent governor. He will succeed term-limited Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri ’65.

“You’ve given me your vote, and I give you my word,” Chafee told supporters gathered at the Warwick Sheraton. “I will always listen to you. I will always be honest with you. And I will always do what is right for Rhode Island.”

Chafee, whose proposed 1-percent sales tax increase garnered national attention, branded himself as the candidate who could supply the tough medicine to fix the state’s budget woes and ailing public education system.

A competitive showing by Robitaille provided election night suspense, as he and Chafee traded the top spot in early returns.

Robitaille, who had lagged in third for much of the campaign, surged into second place after Caprio said President Barack Obama could “shove it” last week. Obama declined to endorse the Democrat in deference to his friend Chafee.

Chafee’s victory brings him back to public office after his 2006 Senate defeat to Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, amid a national anti-Republican backlash.  

“Ultimately, what this election was about was honesty,” said Chafee, the now-unaffiliated former mayor of Warwick.  

Chafee told The Herald in October he plans to focus on the “A, B, C’s” of Rhode Island — the state’s Assets, Budget and Corruption. This entails improving public transportation in the state, investing in infrastructure, improving budget transparency and revitalizing the Jewelry District — the future site of Brown’s Alpert Medical School — he said.

The state’s troubled public education system, which was thrust into the national spotlight during a standoff with Central Falls teachers last spring, will also be an important issue for the new governor, he said.

“I’m a public school teacher, and I think he’s the best one to support education in the state,” said Cynthia Braca P’10, a North Providence elementary school teacher and member of the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers. Chafee was endorsed by both of the state’s top teachers unions.

The Chafee family has a long history in Rhode Island politics. Lincoln’s father, John Chafee, held the Governor’s office from 1963 to 1969, and continued on to the U.S. senate in 1976. And his great-great-grandfather, Henry Lippitt, was governor from 1875 to 1877.

Caprio, whose family business is also Rhode Island politics, was relatively upbeat in his concession speech.

 “Tonight is a great night for Rhode Island,” he said, surrounded by his family at a ballroom of the Providence Biltmore Hotel. “I wish I could have been part of it, but we did our best.”

Many of the Democratic supporters assembled at the hotel said they had voted exclusively for Democrats ­— save in the gubernatorial race. “Caprio’s disrespect for the office of the president turned me off,” said Jeff Davis, a 34 year-old urban planner who voted for Chafee.

William McPhillips, 70, a retired truck driver, said the candidate’s comment was instrumental in his loss. “He shot himself in the foot,” according to McPhillips, who said he cast his vote for Caprio.

Robitaille, endorsed by the Tea Party, ran on a platform of lower taxes and lower spending.

He took 33.6 percent of the vote, compared to Chafee’s 36.1 percent and Caprio’s 23 percent. Block won more than the requisite 5 percent needed for the state to recognize his Moderate party in the next election cycle.

At the Janus Forum election night gathering in MacMillan 117, students wearing Robitaille stickers were disappointed with his defeat.

But group members were still “feeling great,” thanks to the GOP gains in the House, Terrence George ’13, the Brown Republicans president, said.

— With additional reporting by Ana Alvarez and Alexandra Ulmer

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the election night party in MacMillan Hall was sponsored by the Brown Republicans. In fact, the Janus Forum sponsored the event. The Herald regrets the error.

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